Businesses Must Tackle Absence to End the Productivity Decline


Productivity is a subject that in recent years has plagued our Government, with many policy initiatives designed to boost the UK’s economy and end the productivity decline. The new Johnson administration is no different – already ambitious plans, with significant funding pledges have been made which promise to get the UK’s industries flourishing.


The problem is that currently the UK has the highest percentage of the population in employment since ONS records began in 1971. And yet, the actual productivity of the UK workforce has been largely flat. Productivity in the last decade has increased by just 0.3% according to the Royal Statistical Society, which is far from the 2% long-term average prior to this period.


There are several factors that affect productivity rates, but in my experience, the two biggest reasons are employees taking a growing number of unplanned leave days, or arriving to their place of employment unable to work to their full potential because of physical or mental health issues.


Armed with this knowledge, I believe it is businesses themselves who can tackle the UK’s productivity decline head on, reaping the rewards for themselves first and, when undertaken on scale by a whole industry, benefitting the UK economy.


To achieve this, the issues that our workforce is facing must first be understood. This will be different across sectors for physical conditions.

For example, data from FirstCare’s database shows that the construction industry is unsurprisingly most commonly affected by musculoskeletal injuries, whilst the food and drink sector is the industry least affected by cold and flu due to their stringent infection control policies.


For mental health, the growth of the number of people recognising and addressing their mental health problems across the UK is significant irrespective of industry. Our database shows that there has been a 21% increase in mental health related absence since 2015, and during the last two years mental health has been the top reason for absence across all industries.


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Once the causes of absence have been identified, then businesses can put in place new HR policies and wellbeing initiatives to help support employees and boost productivity. The costs businesses can save from putting in place wellbeing initiatives should not be underestimated.


Mental health related absence cost the UK at least £25 billion last year and this figure does not take into account the impact on productivity for those suffering from mental health conditions who continue to go in to work.


Working with FTSE 100 businesses and public sector organisations at FirstCare, we have seen some really innovative schemes rolled out to address specific problems that have been identified in the workplace.


For example, one business combined insights they found from data related to mental health unplanned leave with feedback from their own employees and found that debt issues were a significant contributary factor to their workforce wellbeing and productivity issues.


As a direct result, they partnered with a company that could offer optional low interest loans taken directly from their pay to help ease their financial worries. They found that this scheme not only offered practical help, but opened up the conversation on mental health between employee and employer.


By identifying the causes of absence and designing innovative wellbeing initiatives, it is proven that you can boost productivity within your organisation.


The key to ending the UK’s productivity decline is in your business’ hands. Companies should have an open dialogue with their workforce and look closely at the data available to them to gain an understanding of the issues faced by their employees.


In this way, addressing the causes of absence will save your business costs, increase the UK’s productivity levels and grow the country’s economy. By addressing absence, together we can end the productivity decline.


About the Author

Ian Caminsky is the CEO at FirstCare, the UK’s leading workforce absence management system. From FTSE 100 companies to NHS Trusts, we have a strong track record of supporting organisations to manage and reduce unplanned workforce absences, covering more than 600,000 employees in the UK


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